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Audit shows a dozen KC parking garages’ debt cost taxpayers millions each year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are dozens of parking garages downtown, and you likely only think about them when it's time to find a parking spot.

But a new audit could change the way you look at them.

The Kansas City, Missouri, Auditor's Office conducted an audit on public money used for parking structures to determine if the way money is spent matches up with the city's transportation policies.

It didn't, according to the audit. You can read the full report here.

"City agreements to own or support parking garages have significant lasting budgetary impacts through debt service payments and commitments to parking garage maintenance that constrain the city's budget, reducing the city's ability to address other priorities and needs," according to the audit.

The audit contains a list of all the publicly assisted parking structures in greater downtown built from 2000-2018. There are almost 50 of them. A dozen of them have city-backed debt.

"Based on the contract, we have to make those payments for some of those where the garage debt service was $140 million," said Doug Jones, Kansas City Auditor. "If the revenues don't come in as anticipated, the general fund would make up for those differences."

Between 2007 and 2018, $94 million came out of the general fund for debt service payments on parking garages. There were several major findings about public investment in those garages.

"One of the things we identified is we aren't putting enough money aside for future capital maintenance," Jones said. "There should be about $8.2 million for capital maintenance, and a lot of the garages are at a point where they are going to start needing that."

Jones also found that the parking budgets and operations were managed by several different agencies, making it hard to determine an individual garage's performance. The audit also found that total public funds used for parking garages aren't tracked.

"If it's all under one, it's a lot easier to track what's happening," Jones said.

The audit came up with a list of recommendations for the city manager to make the parking garage investment line up better with the city's transportation plan.

Here are those recommendations:

  • Incorporate city transportation policies and goals into parking garage development decisions.
  • Consolidate responsibility of parking management under one umbrella.
  • Improve maintenance planning and budgeting for parking garages the city owns or for which the city has long term financial obligations.

"If we start looking at future developments with the eye towards the transportation policies that the city has in place, that could reduce the need for new parking structures," Jones said. "That could reduce our debt related to parking structures themselves."

Currently, he said decisions about parking structures are made with only economic development in mind.

"In response to development, public funds have been used to develop parking structures through greater downtown," Jones said. "The city owns nearly $175 million in parking garage assets."

Now that the audit is out, and the city manager reviewed and mostly agreed with the recommendations, he will report progress to the city council every six months until all the changes are implemented.

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